Amer begins by tackling the Whorfian-tinged assertion that the lack of a specific terminology for lesbianism in medieval Europe contributed to a lack of modern scholarship about same-sex desire between women in that era, by noting that the existence of a diverse and specific vocabulary for the topic in medieval Arabic (sahq, sihaqa, musahaqat, al-nisa’, sahiqa) hasn’t resulted in a vibrant field of study. This is particularly disappointing given the significant surviving literature on the topic.
This article examines the plot and narrative structure of the 4th century Christian Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena (AXP) within the context of the genre of Greek romance novels of the time.
Vern L. Bullough wrote a number of articles in the 1970s through 1990s on topics relating to crossdressing and “transvestism” in the middle ages. They are all thoroughly outdated, especially with respect to contextualizing gender presentation as it relates to gender identity and sexual orientation. I’m going to summarize the article using more current terminology (that would not have been available to Bullough at the time this was written).
This is a long summary article on ideas, attitudes, social structures, and legal principles relating to women’s sexuality in medieval Europe. Only a very small section is at all relevant to same-sex sexuality, and that is in a section entitled “Continued Silences” so you can already guess how scanty it’s likely to be, especially given that the “silence” it refers to is women’s own writings about sexuality in general, not specifically same-sex experiences. (It’s always useful to take note of the publication date of articles like this.
Penitential manuals began being produced in the early Christian era (at least by the 5th century) as a guide for confessors or those in charge of monastic institutions to, in some ways, standardize and regularize what actions were considered sins, and what the penance for different degrees of sin should be. This focus can make them valuable for the discussion of matters that might otherwise not be discussed in historic sources.
Mills asks (rhetorically) why medievalists rarely discuss transgender frameworks of interpretation, given that medieval people had much clearer ideas about that topic than anything that might be called “sexuality.” Moral polemics focused less on sex acts themselves, than on disruptions of gender, in particular those that violated the strict binary contrast of “male = active, female = passive.” Androgynous (or intersex) persons were recognized as existing, but were required to choose a consistent binary gender identity (or celibacy).
This is a study of one of the “transvestite saint” legends (for which generally see Anson 1974 et al.). The general context of these stories is the misogynistic and gender-segregated context of early Christianity, in which women who wanted to pursue a religious life might choose to pass as men both for logistical reasons (in order to be able to join a male-only monastic community) and for spiritual reasons (following Biblical language that suggests that women need to become “male” in order to achieve heaven.
This article examines the specifically Christian uses of gender-crossing in a cultural context with highly polarized gender roles. Masculinity was associated with “honor”, the aggressive pursuit of military virtues such as courage, loyalty, and glory, and both the need and willingness to defend one’s claim to them. Femininity, in contrast, was associated with chastity and the protection of sexual purity, where the driving force was the avoidance of shame due to the loss of these attributes.